Sab ka Vikas in the harsh light of Adivasi plight

April 15, 2015

By Stan Swamy

When all the trees have been cut down,
when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted,
when all the air is unsafe to breathe,
only then will you discover you cannot eat money.

(~ Indigenous People’s Prophecy ~)

 Everybody is speaking of growth and development these days. The Lok Sabha election was won by the ruling party on ‘sab ka vikas’ slogan. The more recent State election in Jharkhand was again fought on ‘development of Adivasis’ preaching. The electronic and print media have become the messengers of this ‘development’ magic. The proof of this is the rising Sensex & Nifty, several MoUs being signed by the Indian govt and national & international corporate houses, the promise of unbelievable amount of investments that are going to pour into the country. That the growth rate will be up to 6-7% shortly etc.

But the contrary is the reality of the poorest of the poor. As the country is supposedly developing by leaps & bounds, poverty of the Adivasi, Dalit people is deepening by the day. Their land which is the only source of their sustenance is being forcibly snatched from them for a pittance. The rich minerals in their land is very much wanted but the Adivasi people are not wanted any more. In fact one can say that all the show-pieces of development such as mines, factories, dams, highways are built with the blood of the Adivasi people.

A study done by the Centre for Environment and Food Security (CEFS) on “Hunger in Adivasi Areas of Rajasthan and Jharkhand” in 2005 [http://www.cefs-india.org/pressrelease.html]. Following disturbing facts come to light in Jharkhand State:

– Adivasi population has dropped from around 60% in 1911 to 27.67% in 1991

– Mostly dependent on agriculture: 76.8 per cent are agriculturists, 17.6 per cent daily wagers, 1.8 per cent MFP gatherers, 0.4 per cent handicapped & aged and 3.4 per cent belonged to other occupations. Housing: Only 0.4 per cent had pucca house, 3.2 per cent semipucca, 89.8 per cent had mud-houses and 6.6 per cent were living under thatched roofs

– Literacy: 61.2 per cent were illiterate, 3.8 per cent barely-literate, 8.6 per cent had received primary schooling, 13.2 per cent had middle schooling, 10.2 per cent had received education up to high school and 3 per cent of Jharkhand respondents had received college education.

– Migration: 26.2 per cent of surveyed households said that at least one member from each family had migrated to some town or city in search of livelihood.

– Chronic hunger: A staggering and shocking over 99 per cent were facing chronic hunger. Out of the total 1000 households asked as to whether they had eaten two square meals on the previous day of the survey, only four respondents (0.4 per cent) said that they had eaten two square meals on the previous day.

– Displacement: After Independence, over 10 million Adivasis have been displaced in the country to make way for development projects such as dams, mining, industries, roads, protected areas etc. Though most of the dams are located in Adivasi areas, only 19.9 per cent (1980-81) of Adivasi land holdings are irrigated as compared to 45.9 per cent of all holdings of the general population

– Adivasis and Forests:
Adivasi people in India have been an integral part of the forests. But there is little being discussed at the international level about protecting the indigenous peoples of the forests. Coupled with this is the systematic approach of the state in India which presumes that control over forests and wildlife can be best attained by getting the adivasis out of the forests. The state supported vested interests feel that adivasis are an impediment to the free operations of the forest and mining mafia…

– Loss of traditional livelihood systems: The core of this problem lies in the structural changes in Adivasi economy in the last five decades that have depleted and destroyed the traditional livelihoods and food system of these communities.

– Disastrous impact of industrialization: Immediately after independence the Nehruvian development paradigm embarked on building “temples of modern India”. The social and ecological costs of this development were largely borne by country’s Adivasi communities in terms of physical displacement, destruction of sustenance base and gradual alienation from natural resources. It is these starving, hungry and poor Adivasis who were made to pay the “price of progress”.

– Poverty and Unemployment:
According to government estimates, around 23.22 lakh families in the rural areas of Jharkhand live below the poverty line, out of which 3.91 lakhs belong to SCs and 8.79 lakhs to STs. It is estimated that almost 61.57per cent of the families living in the rural areas are below poverty line.

– Poor Status of Health and Nutrition:
The nutritional status of people in general and women and children in particular is very low in Jharkhand. According to National Family Health Survey (NFHS-II), during 1998-99, amongst the under-3 age group children, 54.3per cent were under-weight, 49 per cent were stunted and 25per cent were wasted.

– Infant & Child Mortality:
The incidence of anemia in adolescent girls was 72.5per cent, amongst pregnant women was 63.9per cent and among the lactating women it was almost 76 per cent.

– Alienation of Adivasi land:
Jharkhand’s agriculture is almost completely dependent on the monsoon; only 8 per cent of cultivable land is irrigated. Agricultural and forest lands are the sole sources of sustenance for the Adivasis.

– Forced to migrate: Apart from the forced involuntary displacements caused by large projects, several lakhs of Jharkhandis have migrated to the tea plantations in Darjeeling and Assam. Several thousands, especially young women, are migrating to large cities and towns. A recent report says that about two lakh Adivasi young women from Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal are presently working as house-maids in middle-class homes. Employment opportunities in Jharkhand are nil. During the last five decades, it is estimated that as many as 40 to 45 lakh non-Tribals from neighbouring states have in-migrated into Jharkhand and have taken over the whole economy and greater part of job opportunities.

Undo the injustice done to indigenous people: acknowledge and implement their constitutional, legal and judicial rights and safeguards. Foremost among them are (1) the Vth Schedule of the Constitution, (2) the CNT/SPT Acts, (3) SC and the ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, (4) PESA Act 1996, (5) Forests Rights Act 2006, (6) Samata judgment 1997 of the Supreme Court, (7) ‘Owner of the land is also the owner of the sub-soil minerals 2013’ judgment of SC.

Our ultimate aim has to be to work towards a cosmic harmony to which justice and peace are closely interrelated. If you want to cultivate peace, protect cosmos.

February 2015